Last Updated on August 24, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1112
White soon discovered that someone on the inside of the investigation had been leaking information. This was nothing new; in fact, such breaches had been going on for some time, and they were a threat to both the investigation and the agents involved. Kelsie Morrison had actually been exposed as an informant by some so-called private detectives, and he was scared of being killed.
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White could not be sure whom to trust, and he learned that Pike, the investigator hired by Hale, already knew about the third man who met with Bryan and Anna. When agents caught up with Pike, he revealed that he was actually hired not to solve the murder but to hide Bryan Burkhart’s activities. He also said that Ernest Burkhart was present during his meetings with Hale and Bryan.
Tom White was the son of Sheriff Robert Emmett White of Travis County, Texas. Born in 1881, White lost his mother only six years later and was raised by his father. White and his siblings grew up right next to the jail, and White frequently witnessed the clash between those who upheld and those who transgressed the law. His father taught him to always be balanced and fair toward all, and Emmett prevented many lynchings and tried to rehabilitate many prisoners. Some, White learned, would change their ways, but others seemed to be evil through and through. White could not solve this mystery, but he watched closely as his father solved cases and apprehended (or sometimes failed to apprehend) criminals. Young Tom White always had a fear that his father would someday die in the line of duty.
When White was twelve, he witnessed a hanging at the jail. Although his father tried to make sure everything went smoothly, the man, who always argued for his innocence, did not die right away. White later strongly opposed the death penalty.
White joined the Texas Rangers in 1905, and his brothers also became lawmen. The Rangers were a mixed group; some of them were dedicated to upholding the law, but others were more interested in pursuing pleasures. White was a member of the former group, and he quickly learned the rules and customs of the Texas Rangers as he dealt with “rascality” while trying to avoid killing anyone. White eventually left the Rangers to marry Bessie Patterson. He had seen too many Rangers die to continue to serve as a married man, so he took a job as a railroad detective before joining the Bureau of Investigation. His brother Dudley, also a Ranger, was killed in an ambush shortly afterward.
White now knew that Bill Hale and his nephews were keeping secrets, and he began to wonder how much Bill Smith knew before he died. A nurse remembered that James and David Shoun and Bill’s lawyer met with him before he died, but the Shouns maintained that Bill said nothing about who blew up his house. He did, however, say that Bill Hale and Ernest Burkhart were his enemies.
White and his fellow agents also learned that Bill Smith made James Shoun the administrator of Rita’s estate before he died. Again, the corruption of the guardians and the exploitation of the Osage came to the forefront as White discovered “an elaborate criminal operation” that involved many areas of society. The Osage suffered for it, even to the point of a widow losing her baby because her guardian denied her funds to pay for the child’s medical care and food.
An informant told one of the agents that Bill Hale controlled everything in the area. She added that he himself ordered the fire in his own pasture to collect insurance money. White recalled that Hale held a life insurance policy on Henry Roan and began to dig more deeply, learning that the insurance salesman received no proof of Roan’s debt to Hale and that the application was initially rejected. He also discovered that the creditor’s note was forged and that Hale attempted to frame Roy Bunch for the murder, offering him money to leave town. Yet White knew he had no conclusive proof.
As White examined probate records, he noticed that more and more headrights were falling into Mollie Burkhart’s possession and that she was married to Bill Hale’s nephew. Notably, Ernest was dominated by his uncle. White realized that there was a deep conspiracy going on against Mollie and her family and that Mollie was likely being betrayed by her own husband.
David Grann imbues his narrative with imaginative metaphors and turns of phrase. This section contains several especially expressive specimens. As White began to suspect that his investigation was not secure and as he learned the depth of the corruption surrounding him, he felt as though he were “wandering through a wilderness of mirrors.” Nothing was quite as it seemed. All White saw were skewed reflections of reality, as if mirrors were reflecting each other to infinity. He was bewildered, perplexed, and off-balance, unsure where to turn and whom to trust. The “wilderness of mirrors” suggests that the unrealities and distortions surrounding White were numerous and dangerous. At any moment, he might lose his way and run into something deadly.
When Grann describes the abuses of the guardian system, he quotes an Osage tribal member who explained to a reporter that the Osage were helpless in the face of the guardians, for the law was on the guardians’ side. “Tell everyone,” the Osage pleaded, “when you write your story, that they’re scalping our souls out here.” There is rich meaning in this metaphor. The Osages’ guardians were taking all they had, and that refers not only to material possessions. They were also depriving the Osage of trust. The guardians were expected to be people in whom the Osage could place their confidence, but instead, they were robbing the Osage of both their money and, in many cases, their lives. The Osage had nowhere to turn, no one on whom they could depend to do the right thing. Their faith and hope in other human beings had been taken from them.
Finally, in a discussion of the death penalty, the author notes that some people, presumably including Tom White, sometimes called capital punishment “judicial homicide.” This turn of phrase is actually a paradox, for a homicide is, by definition, a crime, and the judicial system is designed to prevent and punish criminal behavior, not engage in it. This striking turn of phrase is meant to make readers look at the death penalty through a fresh perspective, examine their own beliefs about the practice, and perhaps reconsider their own attitudes.